The Downfall of the Meraglim

Vayishlach osam Moshe miMidbar Paran al pi Hashem kulam anashim
rashei Bnei Yisrael heima
(Bamidbar 13:3)

The Torah refers to the spies sent by Moshe to scout out Eretz Yisrael as anashim, a term typically used to describe men of stature. Why is this word used in conjunction with the spies, who incited the Jewish People to rebel against the Divine plan for them to enter and conquer the Land of Israel? Rashi explains that this expression is used to teach us that at the time the spies were sent, they were still righteous and had no plans to sin by speaking negatively about Eretz Yisrael.

This is difficult to understand, however, for Rashi later writes (Devarim 1:22) that just as the spies returned from their expedition with evil intentions, so too did they depart with evil intentions, which seems to contradict his comments here.

The Maharal (Gur Aryeh, Devarim 1:22) answers that the spies were indeed virtuous when they left, as Rashi writes here. However, they were sent as agents of the rest of the nation, who did not believe that they could successfully conquer and inhabit Eretz Yisrael, and a shaliach (agent) becomes influenced by the intentions of those who send him on his mission.

There is an expression in the Gemara (Kiddushin 41b) that shlucho shel adam k’moso — a person’s agent is like the person himself. Although this concept arises in the context of technical legal discussions, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (Bamidbar 13:2) explains that it can also be understood literally.

When a person accepts a job and agrees to become someone’s representative, he becomes spiritually connected to his sender and influenced by his objectives. Therefore, although the spies themselves were righteous when they began, as soon as they actually set out on their journey and became emissaries of the nation, they were transformed to become like those who sent them.

To illustrate this concept, Harav Yisroel Reisman recounts that the Chofetz Chaim was unable to attend the second Knessia Gedolah (World Torah Congress) in 1929. Instead, he sent Harav Meir Shapiro to speak on his behalf. The other Rabbanim present wanted to honor Rav Shapiro, as the esteemed shaliach of the Chofetz Chaim, to speak at the beginning of the gathering.

However, he specifically requested that they allow him to delay his speech until the end, explaining that he was enjoying the experience of shlucho shel adam k’moso — benefiting from the holy influence of the Chofetz Chaim and viewing life from his lofty perspective — and therefore he wanted to extend the opportunity as long as possible.

Expanding this concept, the Chasam Sofer notes that we sometimes find an agent referred to in the Torah as a malach. Why should an agent be described as an angel? If a shaliach is affected by the person who dispatches him on his assignment, all the more so is he influenced if he is “sent” by Hashem, and therefore a person who is acting as an agent on Hashem’s behalf indeed becomes like a malach.

Moshe Rabbeinu illustrated this idea by sending a message to Edom (20:16) telling them, “We cried out to Hashem, and He heard our voice and sent an angel and took us out from Egypt.” Because Moshe Rabbeinu was acting as an emissary of Hashem, he merited being called a malach.

Although this insight into the sin of the spies is fascinating, it seems to absolve them of responsibility for their wrongdoing, yet the Torah makes clear (14:36-37) that Hashem held them accountable for their actions and they were punished harshly. If their sin was a result of being negatively influenced by the rest of the nation who sent them on their mission, why were they blamed for it; and what should they have done differently?

The Chiddushei Harim explains that as the spies prepared to set out, they should not have seen themselves as representatives of the nation, but rather as agents of Hashem and Moshe, which would have insulated them from being affected by the aims of the others. Their fatal flaw was their mental decision to depart not as angelic emissaries doing the will of Hashem, but rather as earthly representatives of the nation, which set the stage for them to be led astray by those who dispatched them.

Applying this concept to our own lives, the Sfas Emes notes that we make countless choices during the course of a day. Typically we make our decisions based on what seems correct and logical to us. If, however, we decide to undertake projects not for our own motivations and rationales, but because Hashem wants them to be done, we will merit tremendous blessing and success by becoming Hashem’s angelic representatives in all that we do.

Q: One of the traditional preparations made for Shabbos is the baking of challos in order to perform the mitzvah (15:19) of separating challah (Rema, Orach Chaim 242). If a woman has a small family that is unable to consume a large number of loaves, is it preferable for her to bake a small number of challos in order to honor Shabbos on a weekly basis, or to periodically bake a large number and freeze them in order to be able to perform the mitzvah of separating challah?

A: Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, maintains that it is preferable in this situation to bake challos infrequently in order to fulfill the mitzvah of separating challah each time. However, Harav Shammai Gross and Harav Shraga Feivel Shneebalg argue that honoring Shabbos weekly by kneading and baking fresh challah is more important.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email